GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – His team had scored only four goals in three preliminary games and managed just one win, but U.S. men’s hockey coach Tony Granato wasn’t discouraged by his team’s prospects in preparing for the elimination round of the Olympic tournament.
If anything, he felt just the opposite.
“Look at our path,” he said before the game. “We have Slovakia and if we win, then we’ve got the Czechs. I’ll take that. That’s a nice setup. No disrespect to those two teams at all. They’re great teams.
“But [I think] they’re looking at us and thinking, ‘OK, how are we going to slow those forwards down?’ I think there’s a lot of things that we have that would intimidate another team as well. So I think we’re in a good spot.”
His players backed up their coach’s confidence with their best performance of the Olympic tournament to defeat Slovakia 5-1 Tuesday in the qualification round at Gangneung Hockey Centre.
Team USA scored three goals in the second period and two insurance goals in the third in advancing to the quarterfinals to play the Czech Republic. (9:10 p.m. Central time Tuesday).
The college kids carried them again. Ryan Donato scored two goals (giving him four for the tournament), and his linemate Troy Terry added three assists.
With his second two-goal game, Donato equaled his father, Ted, who scored four goals for the U.S. at the 1992 Games in Albertville. Between periods, Donato saw video of his dad in the stands and said, “I’ve never seen him smile like that before.”
The Americans took control with a pair of goals in a span of 44 seconds during a strange sequence early in the second period.
Donato scored after Terry created a breakaway with his blazing speed. Terry couldn’t get off a shot on his backhand as he skated by the goal, but the puck caromed off the boards and Donato was in shooting position.
Slovakia became undisciplined at that point and committed two penalties within seconds of each other. Ladislav Nagy bowled over U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski, who fell backward awkwardly.
As Donato skated the puck up ice, Michal Cajkovsky earned an ejection by throwing an elbow into Donato’s head as he skated by him.
Both Zapolski and Donato were shaken up but were able to stay in the game. The penalties gave the U.S. a five-minute power play, starting with a 5-on-3. They scored 18 seconds later on a slapshot from James Wisniewski from the faceoff circle. The Americans still had 4:42 with a man advantage, but the Slovaks killed off the remaining time.
The U.S. extended its lead later in the second period on a beautiful pass from Terry from behind the net through defenders to Mark Arcobello, who buried it. It was Terry’s third assist of the game.
“That is kind of my identity as a player,” Terry said. “I can score but I am more of a play-maker and a passer. It is a fun game when you play with guys who can score.”
Slovakia cut into the deficit with a late goal by Peter Ceresnak late in the period. But St. Cloud State alumnus Garrett Roe made sure there was no late drama with a goal that gave the U.S. a three-goal cushion again midway through the third period.
The game was a contrast in styles. Slovakia’s lineup is bigger and stronger. Team USA relies on its speed and relentless forecheck.
The game figured to hinge on whichever could dictate its desired pace. The Americans need to play full-throttle to win, and that’s exactly the pace they got.
“I think people saw tonight we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey,” Terry said. “So we have a lot of belief in our team, and we’re excited to keep going.”